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Outlook mixed for bow hunting.

Byline: MIKE STAHLBERG The Register-Guard

Extreme fire danger will prevent bow hunters from gaining access to hundreds of thousands of acres of privately owned forest lands when Oregon's 2002 deer and elk archery season opens Saturday.

But that's the least of the problems, both short and long term, facing a sport that's doubled in popularity since 1990.

Millions of acres of public lands remain open to hunting. And sooner or later, the rains will come and the gates to closed private timberlands will open.

However, deer hunting success this year is likely to be below average due to disease-thinned herds, changing habitat and the fact that there are so many more bow hunters in the woods.

"We don't have real optimistic projections for deer hunting in this area, at least relative to what we've had in the past," said Bill Castillo, the state's wildlife biologist for the South Willamette Watershed. "We're expecting below-average hunting for deer because of all the hair-loss mortality."

A disease known as "deer hair-loss syndrome" - which first broke out in northern Washington several years ago - has been working its way south and taking a toll on deer populations, particularly at lower elevations.

Elk populations, on the other hand, continue to thrive in western Oregon, Castillo said.

"We're expecting another good season for elk," he said, although hunters may have to work harder to find them.

"Elk have gotten smarter in recent years, and as soon as they hear all the traffic from people moving their camps in and starting to scout around, they're going to head for heavy cover," he said. "Last week we saw several groups out in the open, but when vehicle traffic picks up, that's their trigger to move into thicker areas."

Elk and deer on private timber company lands, however, won't hear any traffic until after the fall rains arrive.

Though heavy in places, the brief showers that fell Tuesday in Lane County were not enough to provide any long-lasting protection against fire, said Ted Reiss, tree farm manager for Eugene's Seneca Jones Timber Company.

"We know that a couple of warm days will negate the brief showers we've had," he said

Along with virtually all other private timber companies, Seneca's lands have been closed to public access. A few smaller companies north of Lane County, however, are allowing "walk-in-only" access.

Up-to-date information on fire closures and other forest use restrictions is available to hunters via the Web site: www.dfw.state.or.us. Clicking on "2002 Fire and Drought Information" leads to a page with links to the latest State Department of Forestry information on private lands and to a page that's a gateway to all federal lands in the state.

For those hunting deer on public lands, the best approach in conditions this dry is probably to wait for the animals to come to you.

"In this kind of weather, you're pretty much limited to tree stands on north slopes, wet areas or riparian areas," Castillo said. "They don't move around as much in this hot, dry weather until after dark when it cools off. It takes a lot of patience."

Indeed, most bow hunters who do take a deer will probably have to be patient enough to wait until the "late" season to fill their tag. That's been the case for the past two seasons in the McKenzie hunt management unit, where 15 percent of the hunters in 2000 and 2001 were successful in the November-December portion of the season, while only about 7 percent were able to take a deer during the August session.

Meanwhile, the long-term outlook for bow hunting is clouded by proposals that would reduce the length of the general archery season.

Currently, bow hunters get a 30-day "early" season for deer and elk statewide. In addition, deer tag holders get a "late" season of up to 23 days in much of western Oregon. Elk tag hunters get 16 days in November-December to hunt antlerless elk in five hunt units west of the Cascades.

But the amount of time archers can spend in the woods may be significantly reduced under new elk and deer management strategies now being considered by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Chief among those is a proposal to make the late archery season a "controlled hunt," requiring a tag drawn in the annual tag lottery. That would force bow hunters to choose between the late and early seasons and - in theory - reduce the number of people in the woods during each season.

Bow hunting is now suffering the consequences of its own popularity.

"Success rates have gone down as the number of bow hunters has gone up," Castillo said.

"The higher density of hunters makes more of a difference with archery than with rifle hunting. Bow hunters interfere with each other more."

Not only are they often "calling" in an attempt to draw animals to them, their sheer numbers are making the animals more wary.

"Rifle hunters have a better chance when hunting wary animals ... they can make a good shot from longer distances and on a running animal," he said.

"A bow hunter, however, is pretty much dependent on shooting an animal that's not aware he's there and one that's relaxed enough that it don't 'jump the string' (take off running before the arrow arrives after they hear the bow string release).

In addition to the loss of the late general season, bow hunters would be expected to share in any reduction in hunting opportunity brought about by the need to adjust seasons because of declining populations or poor buck ratios.

"There have been complaints from rifle hunters that their opportunities have been restricted and that bow hunters haven't had to share in any of that restriction to address bull ratios and declining populations," Castillo said.

The new management plans are still in the "draft" stage, and any changes in the archery season structure would not take effect until 2005 seasons.

Meanwhile, biologists are unsure of the extent of population decline suffered by black-tailed deer as a result of hair-loss syndrome, but it appears to be a more serious factor at lower elevations.

"At higher elevations, hair-loss syndrome hasn't been a big factor," he said.

Nonetheless, deer hunting is becoming ever more difficult at higher elevations due to changes in forest management practices that sharply reduced the number of fresh clear-cuts, which provide ideal deer habitat.

"Forage is declining and deer are getting harder to find because there's less visibility, less open area" in the older logged-over areas, Castillo said.

Elk are doing better than black-tailed deer because they can "use cover better than deer and get forage out of cover better than deer because they can reach higher." Also, elk are more migratory than black-tailed deer, moving during the summer into "wilderness areas where the forage base hasn't changed much."

BOW-SEASON BASICS

When: Tags must be purchased by Friday. Hunting is allowed Saturday through Sept. 22 in most of Oregon. In addition, unfilled archery tags may be used to hunt deer in most western Oregon units and to hunt elk in five westside units in late November and early December.

Where: Most areas of the state are open to bow hunting. Exceptions include Crater Lake National Park, the Warm Springs and Umatilla Indian reservations, the Starkey Experimental Forest and portions of the Columbia Basin Unit. In addition, bow hunting in the Sled Springs and Chesnimnus units requires a controlled elk archery tag. Hunters are advised to check for access and/or use restrictions related to fire danger before taking the field.

Bag limits: Western Oregon deer hunters may take one deer of either sex. East of the Cascades, the bag limit is one buck with visible antler. Elk, sex and antler requirements vary from unit to unit; see page 76 of the 2002 Oregon Big Game Regulations for details.

How much: All bow hunters must possess a hunting license that costs $17.50 for residents, $58.50 for non-residents. In addition, a deer tag costs $14.50 for residents and $191.50 for non-residents. Elk tags cost $29.50 for residents, $306.50 for non-residents.

- ODFW

CAPTION(S):

Elk herds will avoid open areas like this once archers begin moving in to the forests for Saturday's opening of the 2002 bow hunting season. With forest conditions so dry, tree stands may provide the best chance of success for early-season archery hunters when hunting season opens on Saturday. BOW-SEASON BASICS When: Tags must be purchased by Friday. Hunting is allowed Saturday through Sept. 22 in most of Oregon. In addition, unfilled archery tags may be used to hunt deer in most western Oregon units and to hunt elk in five westside units in late November and early December. Where: Most areas of the state are open to bow hunting. Exceptions include Crater Lake National Park, the Warm Springs and Umatilla Indian reservations, the Starkey Experimental Forest and portions of the Columbia Basin Unit. In addition, bow hunting in the Sled Springs and Chesnimnus units requires a controlled elk archery tag. Hunters are advised to check for access and/or use restrictions related to fire danger before taking the field. Bag limits: Western Oregon deer hunters may take one deer of either sex. East of the Cascades, the bag limit is one buck with visible antler. Elk, sex and antler requirements vary from unit to unit; see page 76 of the 2002 Oregon Big Game Regulations for details. How much: All bow hunters must possess a hunting license that costs $17.50 for residents, $58.50 for non-residents. In addition, a deer tag costs $14.50 for residents and $191.50 for non-residents. Elk tags cost $29.50 for residents, $306.50 for non-residents. - ODFW
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Title Annotation:Archers face fire closures, fewer deer and the possibility of shrinking seasons; Recreation
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Aug 22, 2002
Words:1626
Previous Article:ODFW study set to track coast salmon.
Next Article:Outdoor Digest.


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